North Platte, NE -> Gillette, WY
We did a lot of sight seeing across the midwest and Black Hills today! Fortunately the weather forecast of “abundantly sunny” at the hotel in Nebraska was dead on. We started off in North Platte at the world’s largest train yard.
You could go up in the “Golden Spike” and get a 360 degree view of the entire area.
Something like 139 trains and over 14,000 cars pass through here daily. We were impressed by the shear scale of the thing – one train was continuously going through while we were there and we never saw the end of it.
From there we headed north (if the little directional display in the Jeep says either N, W or NW on it – we’re doing things right) through the hills of northern Nebraska. This is what several hours looked like:
Mostly these were grazing lands and they looked like the small mounds on the edge of some golf courses. Our course took us on what can still be considered highways, but not interstates. If you’ve got the time to make it across the country I suggest taking these “back roads” – in which you still get to speed down around 75 miles per hour, but you get to see more than you would taking I-90. You will be out in the middle of nowhere though so anytime you see a gas station you should fill up (even if you’re at half a tank or so) since you never know when you’ll see the next one. I’m not sure even AAA can save you out here.
We crossed into South Dakota:
And spent the better part of several hours traveling through the Ogala Sioux Indian Reservation. I’m not a hundred percent sure that’s where we were, but there were a lot of signs for “Sioux Indian Fund Housing” and “Sioux Food Distribution Site” – again, things you’re not going to witness barreling down an interstate. Several small clusters of buildings advertised “Authentic Native American Artifacts and Souvenirs!” Well I’m pretty sure most of those “authentic” pieces were made in China…
Finally we hit the Badlands, a place I’ve always wanted to visit since seeing my grandparents’ pictures of their trip twenty years ago. On one wall in their living room they had a spectacular picture of these weird formations eroded out of the prairie and we found that exact spot!
Such a weird, cool area! As were were driving out of the park towards Mount Rushmore we saw a lot of people at this roadside stand. We had passed it up originally thinking it was a place for more “authentic souvenirs” but then saw what they all were looking at. Prairie Dogs!! They are ridiculously cute. You could buy peanuts to feed them but we settled on trying to entice them with their native meal of dandelions. Jeff got some great video I’ll figure out how to post later. I know they’re just glorified rats, but in his words, “The rule is if you have a furry tail: cute. If you don’t have a furry tail: you get hit with a shovel. Sometimes there just has to be a dividing line. That’s life”.
After the cutest detour ever we headed to Mount Rushmore.
The place kind of rips you off in that it is $11 to park and you don’t get to use your America the Beautiful pass (which gets you into all the National Parks for a one time $80 fee for a year). If all goes according to plan in my life I hope I never have to drive across the country in an unairconditioned car again, so $11, while steep for parking, is a small price to pay so I never have to say “Well yeah, we drove across the country and saw all these cool things. Except Mount Rushmore, we just thought the parking was just too expensive”. Plus, the whole point of building it was to get people to come see it, right?
I’ve started to notice the air here is much drier. When we were hiking around the Badlands I wasn’t sweating as much as I should’ve been for 87 degrees and at Mount Rushmore it was cool and pleasant to be outside. Yay for no humidity!
Our planned itinerary was to stay in Keystone, SD near Mount Rushmore. One look at that tourist trap hell hole that made Cherokee, NC and Gatlinburg, TN seem quaint and wholesome and Jeff and I decided we’d rather sleep in the car. We drove to the next town of Custer. Same thing, but campier (there was a life sized Flintstones themed hotel/amusement park where a bright neon orange color palate was liberally used). The next town was an hour away in Wyoming, so we kept driving.
To call Newcastle a dot on the map is generous and the one hotel looked like it harbored one too many bedbugs for Jeff and I so we decided to try once more in Gillette, another hour away.
We lucked into an actual town and settled down for the night. Sightseeing has worn us out, but at least we’re two hours closer to Yellowstone tomorrow!